Friday, August 15, 2014

Gone but not forgotten: RIP Robin Williams

This has been a heavy week. Like a good part of the rest of the world, I’m heartbroken over the loss of the incomparable Robin Williams. 

I'm surprised at the depth of my feelings. Of course the loss is massive. He was a once-in-a-generation (perhaps once in several centuries) comic genius who was a presence in my life for so many years.  A whole generation of us grew up with Williams always in our lives, and as a theater person I was in awe of the force of his talent. He was a touchstone for artistic integrity. He made me understand what truth is, in acting and in writing. And how truth means letting go of all comfortable boundaries. He is a living lesson on the edge.

But the grief I feel over Williams' death is more complicated than that loss. There is guilt and sadness that someone who gave so many billions of people so much pleasure was suffering so terribly himself. There is selfish anger about the many roles, both written and unwritten, he was born to play as an older man that now we'll never have. His death brings up conflicted memories of my personal experience living with a loved one with biopolar disorder. And I have a strange, absolutely codependent thought that (as with Philip Seymour Hoffman) we all should have seen this coming and should have done more to ensure it didn't.

I've spent some of this week reading the tributes (this anecdote by Norm MacDonald was most resonant for me) and watching film clips (the Mork and Mindy premiere!) and will no doubt be revisiting some of my favorite Williams movies this month. I am so incredibly grateful that so much of his work is on film for us and future generations, that his talent will continue to entertain, challenge, and delight the world.

But I've realized this week that there's something even more to all of this, that makes the loss even more than the black hole that it already is. Because Williams is an archetype.

I'm not going to go into a lecture on archetypes and how to use them in your writing. I've written about it before, and this week I'm just too sad. But here's the definition.

Archetype:  a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present in individual psyches

That is, there are characters that we are all born knowing. And theatrical, filmic, television characters take on exponential power when they are archetypes: Reacher -the Mysterious Stranger; Katniss Everdeen - Artemis (or Diana) the Huntress; Gandalf - the Mentor... 

And Robin Williams. He is a living embodiment of the Fool, the brilliant and childlike truth-teller, the divine madman, who is empowered to criticize kings, and gets away with it exactly because of that childish truth. He even shared Puck's given name.

We've lost something much more than a brilliant talent.

We've lost the world’s Fool.

And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!    
       -- King Lear


Cathy Strasser said...

Wonderful post. I think most people have realized this on a gut level even if they don't know the reason for their grief - part of the reason for the outpouring of posts and tributes. Thank you for putting it into words for us.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Cathy, I think you're absolutely right - we've realized it on a gut level. It helped me to put a name to it. I'm glad it helped you, too.

BibbityBobbity said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Well said my friend. Well said.

Kristin Wallace said...

I think it's everything you mentioned. In some ways it felt like we knew him, even though as it turned out, we didn't really know his private self. I too grew up with Mork & Mindy and then watched him become an amazing dramatic actor as well. Watching him go off on a riff during an interview, you couldn't help but be in awe of how his mind worked. Sadly, the way his mind worked also seemed to include addiction and depression. He was one-of-a-kind and it's hard to imagine anyone like him coming around again. It's the loss of something special and unique.

Michael Raymond said...

Brilliantly written. I felt the same loss as you. Perhaps for a different reason. Robin Williams was the one who showed me that having a rapid-fire, scattershot, manic, kinda weird brain was ok. That's pretty valuable when you're growing up as the weird kid.

Lara said...

Alexandra, you're absolutely right. I'm mourning more than I ever thought I would for someone I didn't know. In some respects I, too, have a weird, scattershot brain. Definitely a different one.

Great post. Robin spoke to all of us, because he is a piece of all of us. It makes so much more sense now.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks, Zac.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Beautifully put, Kristin.

Bipolar disorder is the artist's disease. Kay Redfield Jamison has written a fantastic study on the relationship between the disorder and creativity. II think it's a must-read for every creative person.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Lara, it makes more sense and it's also comforting, isn't it, to know that part of that is always inside us?

Eric F. James said...

My Gift from Robin Williams

I can forgive loss due to pain.
I can forgive loss due to depression.
I can forgive loss due to addiction.
I cannot forgive the loss of genius.
He gave us that.
Then he took it away.
The cycle continues.
I forgive pain.
I forgive depression.
I forgive addiction.
I’m looking for the genius within.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Michael Raymond, yes, I've heard that from a lot of people.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Dead Poets Society was a formative element in my teenage years. I can't believe he's gone.